Review: MONU #30 - Late Life Urbanism

​I first came across MONU while searching for relevant literature for my master’s thesis on participation in urban planning. Every issue of the biannual magazine covers a unique topic and issue #30 is as the title suggests, about urbanism in relation to our later years in life. The definition of urbanism here is broad, and the magazine includes topics from anthropology and art to architecture.

These topics are presented through a curation of texts and images, produced by a wide range of contributors and experts in the field. This diversity is put together in a collage-like manner, where each part maintains its own identity through a distinct typeface and graphical organization. The risk of clutter is prevented, simply by keeping a coherency in page numbering and margin size.

The opening text of the magazine is an interview by MONU founder Bernd Upmeyer with professor Deane Alan Simpson, focusing on his research of the “young-old”. This is part of a classification that appears throughout the issue and it separates seniors into two groups, the young-old and the old-old. The first group includes those seniors who are healthy and vigorous. Being past working age and liberated from their previous obligations results in plenty of time to spend on leisure and social activities. The seniors who no longer sustains a healthy body or mind falls into the latter category of old-old.

In some parts of the magazine, we are presented with statistics of a growing population of seniors, with worldwide numbers of people over 60 reaching 1.5 billion by 2030. Despite this alarmingly large figure, we learn that there seems to be a general lack of interest in addressing the topic within the field of architecture. This problem is raised in the text “ The Future We Don’t Want to Know About” by Anuschka Kutz. The focus here is shifted more towards the old-old, with a criticism of the too often simple and dull design and function of our care homes.

With a growing older population follows the risk of alienation and heterogeneity, as is shown in the explorations of the young-old by several authors. Mixing and sharing is a commonly suggested antidote throughout the magazine. It is advocated by various authors in different situations, with the most concrete example shown in the design of an intergenerational house by BETA. In the Dutch town house, two families of different generations, occupy different floors of the same building.

There is a general call to the readers to investigate typological and generational hybrids like this, and to challenge how different age groups could mix as the example above illustrates. This mixing of age groups is something I am personally contributing to through my own living conditions. As a student residing in a popular city with a lack of affordable housing, there are limited options available to find a decent place to live for a reasonable price. The room which I rent in a spacious and centrally located apartment, is shared with my landlady who is in her mid seventies. She would fall into the category of the young-old despite her not going on lengthy cruise trips nor moving around in an electric golf-car.

This highlights a potential risk by the use of the -old definitions in the magazine. It often seems to come with an ironic undertone and absurd fascination of the sometimes equally absurd lifestyles of some of the young-old seniors. Although understandable, this steals some of the focus from the discussion of the “ordinary” young-old: those who can’t afford or have no interest in long-term cruises or Disneyland-like isolated communities.

In conclusion, the magazine approaches a difficult topic which is as relevant as it is wide and it does it in a manner that offers insight from different lenses and contexts: We learn about the symbiosis of UK high streets and seniors, ageing in Chinese megacities and the history of Miami Beach.

MONU manages to address these topics and challenges in an informative yet intriguing manner without losing itself in the sometimes demanding language and jargon one would find in a journal. As a soon-to-be master of architecture, I will return to MONU, not only as a springboard for academic literature, but more importantly as a counterweight to the often fast and easily digestible blogs and lightweight magazines we are presented with in our profession.